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Judge: Media barred from Monday meeting on reforming sex offender program

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Reporters will not be present at a Monday meeting in St. Paul that will gather key players to discuss the reform of Minnesota's civil commitment program for sex offenders.

The Associated Press reports that U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank ruled late Friday that a request by a coalition of news organizations to open the meeting is "without merit."

The Star Tribune notes that the Minneapolis newspaper was joined by the New York Times and 14 other news and open-government organizations in asking that the conference be open to the public. The judge also rejected a request to provide a full transcript of the hearing.

The attorney for the news organizations sought public access because the hearing is policy making session.

Judge Frank called the Monday conference to begin discussions in response to his previous ruling that the Minnesota sex offender treatment program is unconstitutional. The judge asked state leaders including Gov. Mark Dayton, Attorney General Lori Swanson and Republican and DFL legislative leaders to attend the hearing. Dayton, Swanson and others have said they favor public access.

Frank said the closed conference will allow for candid discussions. He said he hasn't barred participants from talking about it afterward.

Earlier this month when Judge Frank closed the hearing, the editorial board at the St Cloud Times sounded off on the issue. An August 3 editorial said that he "made a colossal mistake" in closing the prehearing conference.

"So one of the biggest controversies in Minnesota — what to do with more than 700 sex offenders — could be effectively decided without any media or citizen access to the conversation," the editorial continued. "This decision makes a travesty of openness and transparency."

The Minnesota Sex Offender Program holds about 700 convicted sex offenders, most of whom have completed prison terms but have remained in custody because they have been deemed too dangerous for release.

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